“Reppock – sit down.”
Feich, my boss, tried to remain informal, sitting on the edge of his desk with one hoofclaw dangling casually, but he had shut the door to ensure privacy, and I sensed a sort of tension in the way that he withdrew his neck slightly into his shell.
I sat on the stool and leaned forward, trying to extend my eyestalks enough to show that I was paying attention, but not enough to display excessive enthusiasm or, forbid it, aggression.
He fiddled around a bit until he found a small glass, somewhat clean, and then he looked at me directly: “We’ve had a tip that a there’s a group attempting contact.”
A leaned back and let loose a low, lean whistle. “A group of contactors! How do that many nutcases find each other?”
Feich eyed me and poured himself a drink from his drawer without offering me any.
We had had the lone wolves, of course, the kind that made the evening broadcast. A case every year or two. Only one of them had actually been dangerous; the rest had spent less time on actually building a radio transmitter capable of reaching across the ten-point-eight light years to Earth and more time on their manifestos expounding why contact wasn’t really dangerous. All but the one were being tenderly handled by mental specialists. A couple of them had actually been released back into the public.
“Not nutcases,” Feich finally responded, “not this time. This group’s got college professors in it, brilliant minds.” He thrust the file over to me and I began flipping through it. I could see why he was worried.
“This one’s never to be released to the public, understand? They can’t know how close someone came to contacting Earth. They’ve all seen the transmissions – the slaveries, the holocausts, the missing children...”
I hmmed, and continued perusing the file. “They’ve seen our own cinema, too. The thrillers have been all too popular the past decade – and I don’t mean just the ones from Earth.”
“I’ve seen a few myself,” Feich said. “Imagine the weapons that an aggressive species like humans could think up if they only knew we existed, the invasion that would inevitably ensue. We’d end up like the natives of some tropical island crushed beneath forces of the Imperial Japanese Navy. We never had violent films like that before the discovery of the Earth signals.”
I thought about it. He was right. There had been science fiction for more than a century, but it had been benevolent, like our species. Even after Scalomi invented the first radio and got the shock of hearing someone already talking on it. We just didn’t know. It took a long time for it to sink in just how violent the Earth inhabitants were.
“I don’t get it. What do they hope to gain?”
Feich thrust his eyestalks forward and apart, an Elipson Eridani way of shrugging. “I guess they just want to talk. Maybe they think they might actually do Earth some good, hobnob with the pacifist college professors over there.”
I sneered. “Do-gooders – ready to risk their world for their ivory tower ideals.” I tossed the file onto his desk. I had seen enough.
“Well – anyway: I want you to lead the capture. All of the people, all of the equipment. We want to track down any of their collaborators that might not be there tonight. Capture them alive if you can, but end it tonight.”
I checked a pistol out of the vault, large caliber, copious magazine, made to Earth standards. I tucked it away in the back of my belt and headed to a warehouse downtown where I would meet with the team and do a few practice runs. They had a hallway and room down there that the surveillance people said were similar to tonight’s site.
I walked. It was dark already. Our planet was at aphelion, some 0.6 AUs out, winter. We would only get a couple of dry runs before we had to go. The rain had soaked the streets, and the dampness somehow made the cobblestones darker, the echoes sharper. My nerves were jumpy already, but I knew I had little to fear, not in the way of personal safety, I mean. I knew that reports of wayward striplings were rising, and more Eridanis were starting to keep to their homes after dark, but I had the gun.
We had three practice runs. Most of the commandos assigned to the team had experience. I knew most of them. They were enthusiastic about the raid tonight – if anything, too eager. I had to hold them back, keep them from using their guns. Three times running we captured the cops role-playing the contactors.
I wondered for the first time what would happen to them. If they were professors, their students would miss them when they didn’t show up for their classes. Some sort of story would have to be concocted. That wasn’t my business. But the contactors, they would have to disappear. I wondered about that. Feich would have known. There was someplace already prepared.
As I holstered my weapon, I realized it was too late. What was it that Feich had said? “We never had violent films like that before the discovery of the Earth signals.” The Earthers didn’t have to travel 10.8 light years and invade. They didn’t even have to send an unmanned weapon drone. The truth was, their hostility was already here. Our culture had absorbed their media. The violence had spread mind to mind.
We boarded the vehicle and headed to the university.
I hoped I wouldn’t have to kill anyone tonight.